I have always thought of September as the unofficial start to the year. Back to school brings new routines, new expectations, and new challenges for families every year. This is the time when many moms make resolutions to be more organized and set up new systems for their
kids. Maybe it's the former teacher in me, but I always love setting up our routines, labeling new supplies, and figuring out what my kids will need to thrive with the challenges of a new academic year and athletic season. With a little planning, you can be ready for all of it and guide your family into the new school year with (relative) calm instead of chaos. And, if you're reading this after September, it's never too late to implement these strategies!
Packing Lunches and Snacks
This is one of those daily chores that gets old quickly! Picky eaters, boring rotations of the same three sandwiches, and making it all happen during the morning rush can turn packing lunches into something we dread each day. A few easy changes can make this a family activity and ease the stress of one parent having to pack all the lunches and snacks.
Create zones in your kitchen. Designate one cabinet or shelf as the lunch box station. Store all lunch boxes, bento boxes, containers, and utensils that you use for packing lunches in this spot. Make it low enough that kids can take things out themselves to help.
Make it kid-friendly. Fill one basket or bin in your pantry with kid-friendly (and mom approved) snack options they can choose from daily for grab and go snacks and to fill their own lunch boxes. Do the same in your fridge. Select a low shelf and stock a fridge bin with healthy options like cut up fruit and veggies, cheese sticks, and yogurt tubes that kids can pick from.
Foster responsibility. Even kids as little as pre-k can take on some part of packing their own lunches and snacks if you have systems set up for them. It teaches them responsibility and they feel ownership of what they're eating, which makes them more likely to actually eat the lunch that they packed! If they're helping it means that not all of it falls on one parent and your mornings will be a little bit easier.
Pack at night. If mornings are too crazy, get in the habit of packing all or part of the lunches at night. Kids can still help by choosing their snacks and partially filling the lunch boxes after dinner. If you use bento boxes they can easily stack in the fridge until morning.
Make a plan. If you're not having kids help pack their actual lunch boxes, designate a time during the week when you're making the weekly grocery list or meal prepping and plan out weekly lunches with your kids. For example, Wednesday can be mac and cheese day and Thursday can be favorite sandwich day. Just like the schools have a lunch calendar set up with certain choices, you can make a weekly lunch calendar. For those weeks when we have so much going on and I simply can't make a lunch plan I use a delivery service like Stocked. They deliver fresh, kid-friendly meals fully prepared right to my door. And if dinners are your downfall, Stocked has amazing dinners already prepared that the whole family will enjoy. Use the code ORGANIZEDCHAOS15 for 15% off your first order with Stocked.
Set up your pantry and fridge with kid-friendly zones where kids can easily access mom-approved snack options and help pack their own lunch boxes in the morning.
Pantry organization by TOC.
Creating a Morning Routine
Getting everyone out the door on time every morning is no small feat- and if you're trying to get them all out with clean teeth, an outfit that looks like they didn't get dressed with their eyes closed, and brushed hair it's even more of a challenge! Setting up some rules, expectations, and morning routines can go a long way to making everyone's morning a little easier.
Practice. With little kids in preschool and elementary school it's important to practice routines. Ask any primary grade teacher and they will tell you that the first few weeks of school are all about practicing routines and going over the same things a million times with kids until everyone understands where to find things, where to put things, what comes first, and how to do things. Go over your routine with your kids. Make it a fun game to see if they can remember what comes first- brushing teeth or making the bed. See how fast they can do things like putting on their shoes and coat. Kids love timers and it helps them understand how long these tasks should actually take. The more you practice your routine the easier it will be that first day of school and every day after!
Use a chart. For years I used visual charts with my kids to show them each step in getting ready for the day. Once they're older you can use a combination of pictures and words or just words to list out the order in which kids should complete morning tasks. Get dressed, brush teeth, make bed, eat breakfast, pack snack, put on coat and shoes were my key morning tasks. They had to check off each one as done before moving on to the next one. This can be as simple as a laminated paper you write out or as fancy as something like this that you purchase. It took some *practice* but they all got the hang of it and getting 3 kids under the age of 6 out the door to kindergarten and pre-k wasn't such a headache! Now that I have two middle schoolers and an elementary aged child the mornings are still a rush around, but after years of setting expectations and practicing, there is a definite routine in place that they all understand.
Visual routine charts are great for little kids. Practicing routines and setting expectations for kids of all ages will make your morning routines easier.
my kids' morning routine chart. see a similar one here
Stocking a Homework Station
Afternoons can be just as stressful as mornings with after school activities and sports. Add in snack time, homework, and dinner prep and you're likely to lose it! Since you read over the lunch packing section of this post, you've already got your snack stations set up now so kids can help themselves there.( ;-) The next thing you can do is to make sure kids can get their homework started on their own, with their snack, before you run out the door to your activities.
Set up supplies. Whether it's in a caddy, a cart, or a kitchen drawer, designate an area that works best for your family so that the kids can access what they need. I like a caddy because it can be moved from a cabinet or shelf to a table so the kids can work. Fill it with essentials like scissors, pencils, crayons, markers, and glue sticks. If you're using a kitchen or desk drawer, make sure you use drawer dividers to separate the items so that it doesn't become a "junk" drawer!
Create a paper system. Use file folders and magazine holders to set up a file system for each child. Keep important papers for each child in their designated folder. Use an "inbox" system for papers that kids take out of their folders daily. As they come in and empty their backpacks, give yourself an inbox for their papers so they don't just dump them on the counter or floor. You can sort through homework, sign important papers, read over notices, and trash what you don't need (and trust me when I say you don't need to save the worksheets!)
Stock a caddy with homework essentials so that kids can start homework on their own after school.
homework and arts caddy organized by TOC
Kids thrive on routine, order and familiarity. By putting a few things in place like a morning and afternoon routine, you'll get everyone's school year started off in and orderly, organized way. And, if you're still feeling like the chaos is too much, call us and we'll be there to help you get organized! Wishing all your kiddos a wonderful year back at school!
Trish Johnson is a professional organizer, wife, and mom of 3 kids. She is a former elementary school teacher who understands the stresses of daily life and truly enjoys helping busy families get set up with effective, organized systems that are functional as well as beautiful. Her company, This Organized Chaos, is located in New Jersey and services the surrounding areas organizing homes and small businesses.